When a Georgia court unsealed the grand jury report on the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the first name on its recommended indictments was predictable: President Donald Trump.
It’s the second name on the list that jumped out: Cleta Mitchell.
The grand jury recommended charging Mitchell for soliciting election fraud, witness interference, making false statements, and a host of other offenses.
As a Trump adviser and election attorney, Mitchell played a central role in the effort to stop the certification of the election in Georgia and beyond. She was one of the principal players on the infamous call in which Trump implored Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find the 11,780 votes he needed to claim victory. And Mitchell brought lawyer John Eastman in to support the fringe legal theory that state legislatures could override the will of their voters. “A movement is stirring,” she wrote to Eastman. “But needs constitutional support.”
Yet, when Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis unveiled her sprawling RICO case against Trump last month, Mitchell wasn’t one of the 19 people facing charges.
The district attorney was under no obligation to follow the grand jury’s recommendations. Willis’s office declined to comment, and legal experts can only theorize why Willis didn’t charge Mitchell.
Mitchell is arguably the most central player in the attempt to steal the election who isn’t facing prison time.
Regardless, while much of the energy around the grand jury report has focused on the recommendation to indict three senators since its release Friday, Mitchell is arguably the most central player in the attempt to steal the election who isn’t facing prison time. Eastman hasn’t been as fortunate; neither has Mitchell’s colleague Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff who was charged for his role in the call with Raffensperger, despite being far less vocal.
Mitchell’s escape from prosecution has far larger implications than her personal freedom: Unencumbered by a fierce legal battle, Mitchell remains one of the most influential people in the movement that’s undermining American democracy.
“Cleta Mitchell played this key role in trying to overturn the 2020 election and is now working to shape the rules and practices in 2024 and beyond. To me, that’s the most concerning thing in all of this,” said Brendan Fischer, deputy executive director of the investigative research group Documented, who has tracked Mitchell’s activities.
“She’s in a place where she’s connected with the election-denying grassroots,” Fischer said, “continues to have an open door with elected officials, and can move significant financial resources toward backing the latest election conspiracy projects.”
Mitchell’s work goes far beyond the ins and outs of election law. She helped the former president covertly send $1 million to finance the farcical Arizona audit in 2021, as Documented’s research has shown. More recently, she worked with lawmakers in her adopted home state of North Carolina to craft a law that would make it harder to vote, and she’s now leading an effort — through her Election Integrity Network — to train partisan activists to use AI to search for voting irregularities.
And she’s doing all this with the backing of two institutions that have quickly risen from relative obscurity to support and finance the anti-democratic movement in the United States.
Mitchell is a senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Initiative, which has established itself as a sort of headquarters for the insurrection, employing people like Meadows, indictee and former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, and immigration hawk Stephen Miller. CPI’s growth has been breathtaking, jumping from $1.7 million in revenues in 2017 to $45 million in 2021, the last year for which there are tax filings.
With that money, CPI is building a massive amalgamated MAGA institution — with podcast and video studios, a training compound and a waterfront estate on the Eastern Shore of Maryland — poised to endure long after Trump. It houses Mitchell’s “Election Integrity Network.” And, among other projects, it is creating freedom caucuses — modeled after the House Freedom Caucus — in state legislatures across the country. A number of current state caucus members participated in fake elector schemes or attempted to get their legislature to flip the voting results for Trump.
Mitchell declined to answer any questions for this story. “We don’t need to talk, but thanks for calling,” she said before hanging up.
In an interview with The Federalist published Monday, Mitchell said she faced hours of questions during the grand jury proceedings and that she knew coming out of it “that the whole thing was a loose cannon.”
“They were definitely going to recommend indicting basically all the Trump allies — it was a completely political situation — nothing to do with the law. NOTHING,” she said.
Chris Timmons, a former prosecutor in Georgia’s DeKalb and Cobb counties who has worked with the type of grand jury overseeing the Trump case, said he assumed Mitchell had cut a deal for immunity with prosecutors because the grand jury was so clear that she should be charged and she appeared so central to the conspiracy. But Mitchell’s comment to The Federalist changed his mind.
“I’m kind of surprised,” he said. “I would’ve thought she had a deal in place. But if she’s out there saying this is a witch hunt, either she’s not very bright or doesn’t have a deal — or used to have a deal.” Timmons said he now believes Mitchell either didn’t fit into Willis’s RICO case or wasn’t charged for some other reason “that I haven’t even thought of yet.”
Mitchell appeared before what is known as a special purpose grand jury, a type of proceeding for long, complex investigations. The grand jurors ultimately recommended indictments against 40 people in the scheme, and Willis brought charges against 19. Among those targeted by the grand jury who escaped indictment are Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
All told, the group recommended charging Mitchell for her involvement in three different aspects of the plot: the phone call with Raffensperger, the fake electors scheme in Georgia, and the broad effort to overturn the election in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
The January 2, 2021, call came as the Trump campaign raced to stop the certification of the election on a number of fronts. Much of the talking on the call was done by four people: Trump, Mitchell, Raffensperger, and his general counsel, Ryan Germany. While Trump relentlessly pressured the officials to swing the election, even issuing a threat of criminal repercussions at one point, Mitchell was more careful and focused.
She zeroed in on three claims at the heart of Trump’s argument: That close to 5,000 dead people voted in the election, thousands more had voted illegitimately, and an election worker at State Farm Arena awarded Joe Biden 18,000 votes. Mitchell requested records and investigations related to those claims, with Trump frequently interrupting her.
Raffensperger and Germany repeatedly told Trump and Mitchell their claims were just wrong — that their office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, or the FBI had investigated those claims and found they didn’t have any merit.
“You have data and records that we don’t have access to. And you keep telling us and making public statements that you investigated this and nothing to see here. But we don’t know about that,” Mitchell said at one point. “All we know is what you tell us.”
In the end, secretary of state officials volunteered to share some information but said that they were legally barred from sharing other records the campaign sought.
The grand jury unanimously recommended four charges against Mitchell for the call: influencing a witness, making false statements or concealing facts when interacting with state government agencies, soliciting election fraud, and intentionally interfering with the performance of election duties.
The panel recommended the same four charges for Trump, with one of the jurors voting against. Trump ultimately was charged by the district attorney for willfully making a baker’s dozen of false statements on the call — including some of the claims Mitchell pursued. Meadows, too, was charged for the call: for soliciting a public officer to violate their oath.
The grand jurors wanted to indict Mitchell for two additional charges related to the call — for soliciting false statements and certificates from officials — but were more split on those charges, with 12 voting yes, five voting no, and one abstaining. Only one juror voted against those charges for Trump.
Additionally, the grand jury recommended charging Mitchell and others in connection with the fake electors scheme and for commissioning a crime in their attempts to overturn the election in Georgia and other states across the country.
Mitchell addressed the phone call and grand jury investigation in a June speech to a conservative women’s group. Mitchell came across as genteel and lawyerly, but she went on to line her speech with sarcastic remarks about “crazy socialist leftists” and the media.
“I debated about whether I should talk about this because it’s the subject of a grand jury — supposedly — a grand jury investigation,” she said.
“Now, I will tell you that I did not think that phone call was a good idea, and I expressed that view,” she said. Mitchell said at that point she’d already been frustrated by state officials after trying to work with them for six weeks.
In the face of all the scrutiny around her actions around the 2020 election, Mitchell maintained to the crowd that she did have the evidence to prove the results in Georgia were illegitimate. She emphasized to the crowd that she didn’t ask Raffensperger to find the votes. “We had already found those votes,” she said.
But before she did that, she turned to a line she’s relied on for years. She introduced herself as “consigliere to the vast right-wing conspiracy.”
She was joking, but a Georgia jury will likely soon decide whether her one-liner is a statement of fact — whether her boss was indeed the head of an organized crime racket.
Update: September 14, 2023
This article was updated to note that Willis’s office declined to comment.